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10 Secrets to Cycling with Traffic: Part 1 of 10

10 Secrets to Cycling with Traffic

Today we start a series of 10 posts about cycling with car traffic.  These are things we have learned from years of riding in downtown Toronto.  Some of these tips you may have seen before in other places, and some will be new.

This is not meant to be a complete list… there are more secrets out there… but here are 10 that you’ll find very useful.

NOTE: These are geared towards downtown cycling, since that’s what I’m most familiar with.  These all assume that you already know about proper lighting and safety (ie. helmets are useful, stopping at red lights is advised, etc.) precautions, and know that riding on sidewalks is one of the most unsafe things you can do, for both pedestrians and yourself.

We start today with #1:

1. Drivers Don’t Want to Kill You

It’s hard to believe sometimes, because sometimes drivers pass bikes a bit too closely and scare us, but it’s true.

Drivers Don't Want to Kill YouThey may not be your biggest fan, and they may think you are in their way, that you are too slow, that you don’t belong on the road, and they may be a bit jealous of your tight cycling butt, but most of them are not homicidal.

They may seem scary  because they are seeing things from a drivers’ perspective, and often have not given much thought to how vulnerable cyclists are. The vast majority of drivers don’t want to kill you… they just don’t understand you.  As well, the very LAST thing 99.99% of drivers want to do is hurt someone.

A lot of drivers are also cyclists (and vice-versa) and don’t want to be in a collision with you.

I bet any cyclist you know with a drivers license can tell you that knowing things from a cyclists’ perspective has made them a much better driver.

Knowing this one thing will give you a lot of confidence.

Check out the full “10 Secrets to Cycling with Traffic” series:

  1. Drivers Don’t Want to Kill You
  2. Ride in a Straight Line
  3. Play by the Rules
  4. Avoid the “Stoplight Squeeze”
  5. Signal Sensibly
  6. Take That Lane
  7. Make Them THINK You’re Unpredictable
  8. Ride With Others
  9. Avoid the Right Hook
  10. Practice Your Route

Image Credits:

  • duncan

    Great first post. Looking forward to the rest of the series.

  • Great point! And starts the series off on a very postive note. I find that some drivers are actually very nervous around bikes…many other simply don’t understand how to interact (or avoid an interaction!) with a bike, or how to alter their driving to accomodate a bike lane for example. I often try to make eye contact with drivers and will often wave a thank you when they wait for me or let me cross infront of them. Of course, eye contact may throw off some people – I was actually told by a TTC driver that I must not be from TO…I asked why he thought that and he said “you are way to friendly!” I think, though, that making eye contact puts the interaction on a more human to human basis versus big machine to little machine!

  • You should all know that these “10 Secrets” posts will also be posted on GreenLiving Online. It’s a great website run by great people to help everyone try and make greener and cleaner lifestyle choices. :)


  • duncan

    You’re absolutely correct, nodders. Eye contact is key. I find I can “sense” when someone is about to try and “gun it” past me on a narrow road (ok, maybe it’s less of a sense and more of hearing an engine rev) and I find the best way to let the driver know this isn’t a good move is to look back and make eye contact. It takes less than a second and I find it helps most of the time.

  • I just wish cyclists that ride downtown, and anywhere else for that matter on the roads, would help themselves by using lights and wearing helmets.

    I’m a keen mountain biker and coming from the UK spent several years biking within central London. I find when driving in TO, many cyclists have a blatant disregard for their own safety. Are they too cool to wear a lid on the road for the fear of someone seeing them, and are $3 LED lights too expensive an outlay to put on their $200 bike?

    One thing I’ve learned from trail riding is that you’re not invincible and sadly it usually takes a good wipe out to bring this home – my biggest broke my collar bone, but without my lid, could’ve been far worse. When you’re dealing with cars at 60kmh, you’re literally dicing with death if you don’t take your own safety seriously.

    Common sense goes a long way in life. Common sense when riding a bike in the city can save your life.

    Smarten up city riders and don’t give cycling a bad name.

  • misterlj

    I agree with britincanada. We, as cyclists, can do our part to relieve some of the tension between drivers and bikers. We expect people in cars to follow the rules, so should we!

    I moved to Toronto 5 years ago from a Canadian city that has few/ no bike lanes and I have found Toronto to be a very bike-friendly city. I always try to do my part by obeying traffic signals and not being overly aggressive when riding downtown. Granted, I use the city’s numerous and extensive trails whenever I can, and the biggest challenge for me is switching to ‘road mentality’ when using the city streets- not ducking and weaving and doing all those things that make trail riding so fun! It’s a tough balance between asserting your place on the road and knowing that in an accident with a vehicle- you will lose!

    The biggest thing for me though, is the use of ‘lids and lights’. These two things will save your life. When I was a kid, I never wore a helmet, wiped out almost daily, and never received any brain-rattling blows to my noggin. A few years ago, I suffered a malfunction and went ass-over-teakettle onto the pavement. Head first. I suffered only a concussion, but the doctor took one look at my helmet and was convinced it saved my life. Add inattentive drivers, car doors, street debris and the dreaded streetcar tracks into the mix and it’s amazing more people don’t hit the pavement on a regular basis.

  • I really like this post. So much of the tension between drivers/cyclists has to do, I think, with misunderstanding. Drivers really don’t understand why we do what we do. Why am I taking the lane? No, it’s not because I think I’m entitled because I am saving the planet, it’s because it’s keeping me safe? At the same time, I think we as cyclists often underestimate the value of being predictable and visible. And a lot of this issue has to do with the fact that at least at this point, many cyclists haven’t driven before (yes, lots of us on here do), and *many* drivers have never cycled in city traffic. And so a lot of assumptions are made about intent. I know I make lots my own self. Today on the way home I noticed how shocked I was when an H2 driver did not try to go forward despite my having the right of way. At first I was surprised he let me go and then laughed at myself for stereotyping and assuming intent.

    I’ve always liked this post on the subject. I think an updated (and maybe published in a higher profile venue) version would be great: http://crazybikerchick.blogspot.com/2006/09/things-non-cyclist-might-not.html

  • Sean

    As someone who commutes by car, bus, and bike (mostly on the bike) I can completely agree with the above views. Safety is everyone’s responsibility. Bikes have a right to the road but must follow the rules of it whether that mean obeying traffic signals or dismounting on sidewalks. Cars and buses need to remember that they’re operating a 1.5 – 20 ton vehicle and that it take a small mistake to seriously injure or kill someone on a bike or foot.

    I’ll admit that I’ve thumped a few cars with my fist, shouted at open windows, and shown a middle finger here or there but it’s a reaction to my life being threatened be someone who is either being careless, clueless, or impatient – none of which are excusable.

    It’s too bad that riding a bike in traffic isn’t part of the process for getting a driver’s license. :)

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  • Ryan

    Cycling and knowing things from a driver’s perspective is probably the most effective way to stay safe – anyone I know who doesn’t have a driver’s license and doesn’t drive a car are terrible cyclist on the road and I’m surprise they have not been hit yet . It doesn’t matter who is right or what your rights are because the
    Moment u collide with a car you are wrong and probably dead – why test that – it’s no different with motorcycles

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